Cottesmore Catering High Flyers

Report by Cpl Jason Wood Of Junior Ranks Mess, RAF Cottesmore.

Exercise Joint Caterer, competition formerly known as the Combined Services Culinary Challenge is the Annual Inter Service cooking competition.  The event took place at Sandown Park in Surrey last September.  It showcases the very best that Armed Forces catering has to offer, in events ranging from field catering to sculptures made from chocolate or baking fat.

RAF Cottesmore had three entrants into four classes at this years challenge.  They were SAC’s Jamie Lee Thomson and Danielle Ward, of the Officers’ Mess; and they entered Junior and Inter Service Steward Skills respectively, and myself Cpl Jason Wood of the Junior Ranks Mess entered into the Open Team Buffet, and Senior Chef of the Year.

Jamie’s class involved her laying a table for two people, and a place setting for one judge.  Prepare a Caesar salad accompanied by bread and a non alcoholic beverage, all to be completed in a 20 minute timeframe.  Jamie was awarded a bronze medal, which is very admirable considering she only began preparation one week before.  Danielle’s event was along similar lines, only more complex and involving a flambé dish.  Again she was required to lay a table for two people and one judge with two different napkin folds.  On completing the task she had to serve a suitable accompanying wine for her flambé dish; which was pistachio French toast, plums and orange flambéed in raspberry vodka, orange scented mascarpone, and then serve a speciality coffee. The task was to be completed in a 45 minute timeframe.  Danielle was awarded a silver medal, highly commendable as she was one of the younger competitors in this class.  Both girls were mentored by Cpl Harriet Hood of the Sgts’ Mess, who herself has a good competition background.

The Open Team Buffet is not exactly cheese and pineapple on sticks and vol au vents as you may think!  It is a cold presentation table representing a banquet style service which consisted of three portions of two different amuse bouche, three portions of two different starters, a restaurant platter for two people, a show platter for six people, and three portions of two different desserts. The team for this was made up of four senior and two junior chefs from different RAF stations, with WO Dale Hegarty as team manager and Cpl Alun Davies as team captain, both of Catering Training Squadron RAF Halton, (which we used this as our working base for the two weeks).  I was head of Section A, which is the amuse bouche and starters with SAC Davey Smith of 3MSC RAF Wittering.

With this being a cold presentation table the food needs to be coated in aspic jelly to aid its appearance throughout the day.  The jelly does however deteriorate as the day goes on so time is of the essence in the preparation of the food, and has to be glazed at the last minute possible.  This means working through the night and being stored in airtight boxes until needed for plating and then transporting to the venue.  (So a very long shift is called for)!  We started at 07:30 on the Monday, and finished at 19:35 on the Tuesday.

So what of the award you ask? GOLD! (My first in 11 years of competition).  On the Thursday we found out that due to the Army and Navy only gaining bronze medals for the event we were awarded Best in Class.  We didn’t feel so tired after that funnily enough!  As for Senior Chef of the Year, I was awarded a bronze medal, my fifth for this event over the years! (Let’s not speak about that though)!

All in all it was a great competition for the RAF; however the overall result was a draw between the RAF and the Army.  For me, a great two weeks of hard work, long shifts, tired eyes, legs and feet.  It was made to feel all the better by the smell of victory and the glint of gold.  A big pat on the back goes out to all the competitors.


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